Hackney Town Hall

Hackney Town Hall.

The Mayor of Hackney is under pressure from his local Labour party to take “urgent action” on the row over allegations of racism and discrimination within Hackney Council.

Trade unions vowed to escalate their campaign in support of Natasha Johnson, a Town Hall employee at the centre of an acrimonious dispute over workplace bullying, whose dismissal was confirmed at appeal earlier this month.

Notice of an independent review of the culture and practices at the council’s call centre, where Johnson worked, was given to Town Hall employees on 14 December, following an 18-page report claiming abusive comments and behaviour on the part of Town Hall staff being sent to Hackney councillors and union members.

A spokesperson for Hackney South & Shoreditch constituency Labour party (CLP), which voted through a motion on Johnson’s case on 24 January, said: “As a local party we stand against all forms of bullying, harassment and discrimination and have been particularly troubled by the allegations of such behaviour made against managers in Hackney Council.

“Members voted overwhelmingly to support the joint action by Hackney’s Unite, Unison and GMB branches calling for the reopening of the case into Natasha Johnson’s dismissal.

“We believe that the ongoing independent inquiry must address the allegations of a wider culture of institutional racism and bullying within the council and we’ll be writing to the Mayor of Hackney to urge him to take urgent action to address the concerns raised by trade unions and local party members.”

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville “absolutely refuted” the claims referenced in the CLP statement.

The move by Hackney South & Shoreditch was hailed by Unite, which had previously slammed the allegations made against Johnson justifying her dismissal as “ridiculous”.

Onay Kasab, regional officer for Unite, said: “The statement from Hackney Labour Party members will be welcomed by every one of our members facing bullying in the workplace.

“It is now time for Hackney Labour councillors to intervene directly and instruct council officers to reverse the decision to dismiss Natasha.”

Johnson had raised complaints at her employment tribunal over a manager implying she was smoking marijuana at work, and being told: “If you haven’t got childcare, you shouldn’t be working here.”

However, the Town Hall made counter-allegations of its own, claiming that Johnson was herself creating a “hostile and intimidating environment” for managers.

The allegations made against Johnson by the council include:

  • Suggesting / making allegations of discriminatory treatment in order to
    manipulate management’s behaviours / decisions
  • Making unreasonable demands on management time
  • Immediately chasing up emails
  • Standing over managers
  • That the manner of the [public] campaign itself, whether intentional or not,
    created a hostile and intimidating environment for managers in which
    they felt to be the victims of bullying and harassment

Johnson was also accused of “challenging managers in an attempt to trip them up, unneccessarily copying managers and trade union reps into emails”, as well as failing to positively work with or discuss performance issues with managers.

Johnson and Unite continue to challenge the allegations, claiming that the evidence brought forward in support of them was “discredited” at appeal.

The unions’ list of claims, first reported in the Hackney Gazette, include alleged slurs such as:

  • a black female member of staff being referred to as “a Taliban” and “a slave”
  • a manager stating they would start embracing their roots because they were white and white people used to enslave black people
  • a member of staff’s history of domestic abuse being disclosed in public with the words: “Your partner is always pulling your hair out and you’re a walking car crash.”

Unite says it “welcomes” the investigation with the intention of engaging fully with it, but continues to support Johnson’s case in order that she not become “collateral damage”.

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “We absolutely refute these claims and I am disappointed that Unite continue to make these allegations without coming forward with new and additional evidence.

“As I’ve said before, all forms of bullying, harassment and racism are unacceptable and, if such behaviours are found to be happening in the workplace at the council, they will not be tolerated and action will be taken in line with the council’s policies.

“The original disciplinary hearing and the appeal followed the council’s disciplinary policy and it would be wrong to comment on this specific case.

“Separately, in agreement with the unions, an independent investigation is now underway and it’s important that we wait for the outcome of that report which we will publish.

“Our work on inclusive recruitment, retention and leadership as well as wider equalities work is extensive and meaningful, with active trade union and staff involvement.

“We have a Cabinet Member with direct responsibility for working with trade unions who like me is always open to discussions with them.

“I regularly meet with representatives from Hackney Council trade unions about this and other issues and would invite them to direct any new concerns or grievances to me.”

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